'Great passion' - Skipp stars for Spurs ahead of City reunion
- Credit: John Walton/PA Wire
“He played with great intensity, great passion, with heart, with soul.” It won’t take Norwich fans long to guess which Tottenham player Antonio Conte was talking about.
Oliver Skipp won the affections of Canaries supporters during his successful loan last season, finishing third in the Player of the Season voting. On Thursday night he took a big step forward for Spurs.
The 21-year-old had started eight of the first 10 Premier League games of the season under Nuno Espirito Santo but five defeats in seven games led to a managerial change. In came Conte, the man who won the title with Chelsea in 2017 and Serie A with Inter Milan last season.
Skipp retained his starting role alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in central midfield as the Italian moved to a 3-4-3 shape during a 0-0 draw at Everton, but picked up a fifth yellow card of the campaign and a one-game ban.
Harry Winks took his place for a 2-1 home win over Leeds and Skipp returned with 90 minutes in the embarrassing 2-1 defeat away to Slovenian minnows Mura in the Europa Conference League. Would he regain his Premier League place after that?
With Sunday’s game at Burnley postponed due to heavy snowfall, the wait for that answer continued. Yet when Brentford arrived at the magnificent Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday, there was Skipp, back in central midfield alongside Hojbjerg.
After a 2-0 win, the England Under-21 international was voted Man of the Match by Spurs fans on the north London club’s official Twitter account, taking 49pc of over 27,000 votes.
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Asked about the academy product’s performance, Conte said with a big smile: “Skipp played a really good game in the same way with the other team-mates.
“I think this player is very young. He has really a lot of space for improvement. He played with great intensity, great passion, with heart, with soul. I think it was important because for me he doesn’t care if he’s only 21-years-old, who deserves to play.
Today he played well. I think that I can improve him a lot in possession and technically, to look before the play that they have to do. We’re talking about an important prospect and I'm very happy for him, but now he has to continue in this way.”
It was a 27th Premier League appearance in total for Skipp but he was denied his first top-flight assist in the second half after driving through midfield and threading Harry Kane through on goal, only for Bees keeper Alvaro Fernandez to deny the England captain.
He also intercepted a Bees clearance and played Kane into the box but the striker’s cross from the right was turned into the side-netting by Hojbjerg, as the hosts chased a second goal.
Spurs led thanks to an own goal from a corner in the first half, with Brentford defender Pontus Jansson heading against former Norwich winger Sergi Canos, but made sure of the win as Son Heung-Min finished a swift counter-attack in the 65th minute.
Skipp was an integral part in the Championship title-winning machine for City last season, inheriting Alex Tettey’s long-held role as the unselfish but crucial defensive-midfield enforcer.
Conte knows a top Premier League midfield enforcer has to be productive in possession as well though.
Speaking to Football London, the Spurs boss continued: “He has to improve with the ball, in possession. This player, without the ball, he works very, very hard. To have him in the midfield together with Hojbjerg is very, very important.
“For sure, the part that he has to improve is with the ball but in one month I have seen a lot of improvement about Skippy. He’s a player who wants to improve.
“I think that the present and the future depends on him. If he wants to become a top midfielder, he could become a top midfielder, but he has to continue to work. He has this will, this desire to become an important player for Tottenham and for the present and for the future.”
The foot injury that cut his Canaries loan slightly short, at 47 appearances, had given slim hopes that Skipp would be allowed to return to Norfolk this season but he will be reunited with City on Sunday as a Premier League regular.
As a key player for the England Under-21s and with a contract at Tottenham until 2024, the youngster has Champions League qualification and senior international recognition to target.
Skipp will always be remembered fondly at Norwich though and if he does achieve those aims, he will be able to thank City and former boss Daniel Farke for the role played in kick-starting his career.